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Sauce for the goose: North Korea’s nuclear power play

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan - posted Friday, 4 August 2006

The issue of North Korea and nuclear weapons goes back to the Korean War when the US threatened several times to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.

After the war, United States forces remained in South Korea, and in January 1958 began deploying several types of nuclear weapons there. The first four deployed were the “Honest John” surface-to-surface missile; the massive 280-millimeter gun; the eight-inch artillery shell; and atomic demolition munitions.

Between 1960-64, the US deployed five more weapons systems: the Lacrosse and Sergeant ballistic missiles; Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles; Davy Crockett nuclear bazookas; and 155-millimeter artillery shells.


The presence of US military might on North Korea’s doorstep motivated President Kim Il-sung to launch a nuclear weapons program for his country, and eventually pursue the world’s then second biggest power, the Soviet Union.

In the mid 1960s, the Soviet Union helped North Korea develop a large-scale atomic energy research complex near the small town of Yongbyon, and in 1965 provided a Soviet IRT-2M research reactor for the centre.

Many North Korean students trained in the Soviet Union to work at the centre, and from 1965 to 1973, with Soviet help, North Korea focused on the nuclear fuel cycle system, including refining, conversion and fabrication. China also provided support between the 1960s and 1980s.

In the 1980s, as its focus turned to the practical uses of nuclear energy and to completing a nuclear weapons development system, North Korea began operating uranium fabrication and conversion facilities. This involved building a 200MW nuclear reactor and nuclear reprocessing facilities at Taechon and Yongbyon, and high explosive detonation tests.

North Korea reached a milestone with its nuclear program by constructing a 5MW electric reactor that began operating in 1986.

Under international pressure, Pyongyang acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1985 but refused to sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency - an obligation it had as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


In July 1990, a Washington Post report showed satellite photographs of a structure at Yongbyon which could possibly be used to separate plutonium from nuclear fuel. Then, again under high pressure, North Korea signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA on January 30, 1992, and allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June.

However, North Korea's refusal in January 1993 to allow special inspections of two unreported facilities suspected of holding nuclear waste brought this promising development to a halt. Its refusal to allow IAEA inspections, and its operation of nuclear reprocessing facilities, made the world suspicious of its nuclear intentions. On March 12, 1993, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

United States intelligence discovered in mid-2002 that North Korea had been receiving materials from Pakistan for a highly enriched uranium production facility. Nearly two years later, in February 2004, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear technology, Dr Qadir Khan, confessed on national television that Pakistan had transferred nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya during the 1980s and 1990s. The Pakistan and North Korean Governments, however, did not endorse Dr Khan’s claim.

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About the Author

Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is senior journalist, writer, media analyst and foreign correspondent for foreign media agencies in Australia. His email is

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